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KeyArena renovation wins approval from Seattle City Council

The vote came after a more than year-long process and the day after a deal with SoDo arena investor Chris Hansen expired.
A rendering of a proposed redevelopment of KeyArena in Seattle. (Source: Oak View Group)

The Seattle City Council has voted 7-1 to approve a new $660 million package to build a new arena at Seattle Center, perhaps paving the way for a Seattle NHL franchise in the immediate future.

The vote came after a more than year-long process, at least eight different public meetings, and the day after a deal with SoDo arena investor Chris Hansen expired. Seattle agreed to the Memorandum of Understanding with the Oak View Group (OVG), led by Tim Leiweke, after months of debate. OVG has agreed to privately finance the $600 million building, in addition to spending millions more on transportation and community improvements. Leiweke was in attendance at the Council Chambers on Monday.

OVG has claimed it can begin construction next year and open the building by October of 2020. Final transaction documents and a traffic plan are still elements which need to be resolved before the project can begin in earnest.

There is widespread belief inside Seattle City Hall that Oak View will now make a serious pitch to the NHL to be an anchor tenant in the new building. UW grad and billionaire David Bonderman has met with multiple council members. Bonderman is an investor in the project and a minority owner of the NBA's Boston Celtics. OVG has publicly identified him as the potential lead investor in an NHL franchise. The NHL Board of Governors is meeting later this week. Jeremy Jacobs, of the Boston Bruins, is the head of the BOG and also an identified partner of OVG.

New Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is expected to formally sign the legislation on Wednesday.

She released a statement immediately after the vote, which reads in full:

“I’ve said consistently that I’m committed to bring back our Sonics, recruit an NHL team, and invest in our City. Under this plan, arena construction is 100% privately financed and will provide good family wage jobs for decades to come. Nothing in this MOU precludes other private investors from privately financing other arenas in Seattle, but it does establish a pathway to making Seattle Center vibrant for future generations. I commend the leadership of Councilmember Juarez, Council President Harrell, and Councilmember Bagshaw and look forward to reviewing and signing the MOU later this week.”

Unlike past arena votes, the council chambers were not full and there were not a lot of Sonics jerseys; however, a couple of people testified that the SoDo arena should still be looked at as a possible option. It has been almost 10 years since the city agreed to allow the Sonics to leave Seattle for Oklahoma City.

Most of the public comment was positive about a new arena in the Uptown neighborhood. Nicole Grant of the King County Labor Council told the council "Vote Yes."

"We think KeyArena is crucial to our strong quality of life here," she added.

YouthCare, which is expected to get $10 million from the MOU, also testified how the project will be helpful to youth in need.

Council member Mike O'Brien was the lone voice of opposition, and even attempted to float a last-minute amendment to kill "exclusivity" language in the deal. After that failed, he said he couldn't vote for the MOU without it.

Leiweke said very little in the chambers, but issued a statement late Monday.

"On behalf of OVG, we want to thank the Seattle City Council, City staff, and City consultants and representatives for the cumulative work that signifies a monumental moment with today’s 7-1 vote. We feel extremely good about the partnership between the City of Seattle and OVG and respect and applaud the City in its ability to be thoughtful, collaborative, and deal focused throughout this process while maintaining the best interest of its citizens.

The process over the last year serves as an example of the transparent public/private collaboration that has led to a great outcome that other municipalities will emulate. We have enjoyed getting to know our neighbors in Seattle Center, Uptown, South Lake Union, Belltown and Queen Anne. We look forward to continuing our work with the community over the next year as we complete our long form agreements and full entitlement. We will continue to be good partners and good neighbors and look forward to a collaborative and beneficial ongoing relationship will all community stakeholders.

While this vote marks another important step in the process, we have work to do. Out of respect to our new leader, Mayor Durkan, and our continued commitment to follow the appropriate process, we will reserve our comments until later this week when we anticipate the Mayor signing our agreement."

Hansen, and his investors, also released a statement after the vote.

"More than six years ago, we began our effort to bring the Sonics back to Seattle. That remains our goal today.

While we respect the City Council’s decision to approve the Oak View Group MOU we continue to believe our plan to build a 100% privately funded arena in SoDo represents the best chance to bring the NBA back to Seattle.

Our team of local investors first came together because there was no effort underway to bring the NBA back to Seattle. We purchased land in Seattle’s Stadium District, paid for a lengthy environmental review, traffic and parking studies and economic impact studies. We worked with the Seattle Arena Review Panel, King County Expert Review Panel, the City and County Councils through numerous hearings, the Seattle Downtown Design Review process and Seattle Design Review Commission. In short, we did everything asked of us by Seattle officials. We believe this lengthy review, along with the input we heard from the broader community, resulted in a better proposal for everyone.

Today we remain steadfast in our goal to have the NBA once again playing in Seattle, so we will
keep the land we own in Seattle’s Stadium District until that commitment has been made.
Having two viable arena options puts Seattle in the best position to attract an NBA team. If some future NBA ownership group is unable to reach a competitive deal at Seattle Center, having an alternative is vital for the City and Sonics fans.

We ask the City Council to consider our revised application for a conditional vacation of a one-block section of Occidental Avenue South. We will not break ground on an arena unless a team is secured, so granting the conditional vacation poses no risk to the City and it doesn’t impede Oak View Group’s arena plans.

And if Seattle Center does indeed end up once again being the home for the Sonics, we’ll be right there with you to cheer them on."

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